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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Why Our Kids Can't Work Their Way Through College Like We Did

Recently, Julie Mack wrote an excellent article  (What many older people don’t realize about college costs today).  She points out (with great charts!) a number of factors that contribute to the challenge high school students face today.  In the ‘60s, ’70s, and ‘80s, students could work their way through college.  However, that opportunity is no longer available.  Let’s look, briefly, at why.

1.    Tuition was considerably cheaper.  It has quadrupled, even after factoring in inflation.  For public universities, approximately 70% of their funds came from state funding.  Now, only 23% do.  Adjusted for inflation, the 2001 Michigan state subsidy was 68% greater than the 2017 subsidy.  The Michigan House Fiscal Agency calculated that between 60% and 80% of the tuition increases between 2000 and 2013 could be attributed to cuts in state funding.

2.    Financial aid is different now.  In 1975, loans comprised 17% of financial aid.  Now, federal loans account for 42% of aid (some sources report an even higher percentage.)  The maximum Pell grant in 1975 covered ALL of tuition AND some room and board expenses.  The current maximum Pell grant will cover less than half of the tuition costs at a public university. Social Security stopped paying benefits to students who had lost a parent in 1982.  In 1975, Social Security paid more money to US college students than Pell grants did.  Scholarship monies have significantly decreased, with some need based scholarships that used to cover full tuition costs now only cover $1,000.

3.    Working during college is FAR less lucrative.  The high paying factory jobs collegians could work during the summers and earn enough to cover the next year’s college costs, are gone.  The jobs college students can get now typically pay minimum wage, half (or less) of what students in the 1970s earned.

 IIf you are interested in lowering your college costs, I invite you to schedule a consultation with me.  Over the past 13 years working with families all over the US, I have identified the key factors that need to be addressed in order to lower college costs and increase college funding.  My Class of 2017 students were offered over $243,000 each, on average, in college scholarships.  As wonderful as that is, it's only part of the expertise I bring to each client's situation.  Working holistically, I am able to guide students to college success.  Here's how I define that:

   Premier Student Preparation 
         + Savvy College Selection 
                  + Abundant Funding 
                             = College Success

Email me today to request your college consultation. Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS
  For more information regarding my services, please visit

For Julie's full article, please see:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

FAFSA, More Changes 2017

The only thing true about college is that things are always changing.

The DRT/Data Retrieval Tool was introduced a few years ago to help families pull information from their tax returns into the FAFSA forms.  It was designed to eliminate the need for verification since the information was coming directly from the IRS.  However, there were significant security issues last year.  So, the DRT was turned off and many FAFSA filers were not able to use it.

In the interim, the IRS and Department of Education made changes in order to "enhance the security and privacy of the sensitive personal data transferred into the FAFSA form from the IRS."  Starting this year, the information brought over will be encrypted.  Users will be unable to see the data when they access their tax forms with the DRT and the information will remain encrypted when it is transferred to the FAFSA.  The data entry fields will show "Transferred from the IRS" instead of the data. 

The colleges will be able to see the actual data and make any adjustments required.

Since the information will be encrypted, some changes need to be made both in the "income earned from work" questions and in the instance of IRA rollovers.  Because the FAFSA formula gives an allowance for the extra costs incurred when both parents are working, parents have to enter in how much each made from working.  In the past, the combined income was transferred from the joint tax return.  Now, the amount earned from work by each parent will need to be entered in manually.  In the event of IRA rollovers, parents (and students, if applicable) will need to indicate whether or not an IRA distribution includes a rollover.  If it does, the amount of the rollover will need to be indicated.  The processor will then deduct the amount "rolled over" from the total in the income calculations.

One problematic outcome of this change is that the correlation between income and the EFC will not be evident since the income data will be encrypted.  Manual calculations will be necessary.  If you need help in this regard, please contact Katherine O'Brien directly ( - Scholarships or Sham??? sounds great!  Who doesn't want to be rewarded for their efforts?  The idea of getting "micro-scholarships" for getting good grades, etc. sounds ideal.  A little too ideal, perhaps.  Let's take a look... was founded in 2012.  It's a site where students can create a profile and enter in their achievements.  Participating colleges (there are over 200 so far) promise students micro-scholarships based on their achievements (getting an A in a class, for example) starting in the 9th grade.  Of course, the students must be accepted at a given school in order to "receive" the micro-scholarships based on his or her account.

On the one hand, students are encouraged to do well throughout their high school careers by receiving the promise of awards.  Hopefully, this will encourage students to excel in their studies.  Students are rewarded for good grades, community service, working, taking tests (PSAT, ACT, AP, SAT, etc.), and extracurricular activities. On the other, the pressure of looming college applications is now obvious to students at an earlier age.  Some argue that this program puts too much pressure on younger students who should be exploring, etc.  However, by freshman year in college, I believe students should be maturing and developing a strong sense of cause and effect and the impact that their choices of today make on the opportunities, or lack thereof, of tomorrow.

Colleges pay a fee to participate. Apparently, is a mechanism they can use to attract students.  Colleges set the value of the various rewards, or micro-scholarships they offer, so have a way to attract the attention of students and compete with other colleges for their attention.  After all, who doesn't think well of a school after seeing the message pop up that says, "Great job!  $500 from XYZ University for you!"

I am unable to find any information regarding how the scholarships relate to the overall financial aid package.  Based on my experience as a college consultant, I am skeptical that students with accounts are receiving any more aid than they would have if they had not had an account.

So, the information regarding Raise.Me is inconclusive.  it might be a helpful tool to encourage a student, but will it have any real impact on the student's net cost at any colleges?

Get in the Groove to Succeed at Life (and School)!!

As I see it, we humans have two choices.  We can do the things that will make us successful, or we can be miserable.  For those who aren't sure, please watch: 7 Ways to be Miserable  Then you'll see just how to ruin, eh hmmm, improve your life.

In fact, setting clearly defined goals and a set daily rhythm is a  GREAT way to start your school year.  Even the most accomplished among us can improve their way of life, so take a few minutes to explore -

What's my sleep cycle like?  If you'd like to reek havoc on your life, be more depressed and less productive, have an irregular sleep cycle.  Keep your body confused about when to rest and when to rise, and you'll be more miserable by the day.  Happily, it only takes three days/nights to "reset" your body clock.  So, determine the optimum time to arise in the morning, count back 8 1/2 hours, and set that as your bedtime.  The MOST important set time in your day is your bedtime.  Give yourself half an hour to wrap up your day and get ready for bed, then let your head fall gently on your pillow.  If you need more sleep, adjust the plan accordingly.

Do I ever get moving?  Feeling good involves getting your motor running.  Just pouring coffee down your throat to wash down your sugar laden "breakfast" will not do the trick.  God gave us bodies on purpose.  In order to get our minds working, able to focus and concentrate, settle our moods, slow down our fidgets, get out and walk, run, swim, bike, etc.  Take a good half hour every morning to move your body.  Then, take a refreshing shower, eat a decent breakfast (which you'll be more interested in after exercising than you typically are), and get on with your day.

Is silence my friend?  Our worlds are NOISY!!!  I can't get a moment to clear my head, can you??  Integrating time in silence each day is calming, centering, and enables our minds to rest.  Meditation or prayer or Scriptural or spiritual reading can be part of this time, but they don't have to be.  Just sit under a tree, spend time alone, swim, whatever.  Yep, this can be combined with exercise, if that works for you.  Some people find using headphones or earbuds to be really helpful.  Just because I have them in my ears doesn't mean I have them connected to anything or am listening to anything.  I might just be using them to help my world be more quiet.  Journaling or drawing or coloring might be good things to do in your silent time.  Just let your thoughts rest and just be.  Just rest in God's presence, notice the beauty around you, just breathe.  Let your mind and your body and your soul get grounded for the day in the quiet.  Use a timer so you don't have to worry about when the time will end.  Let go - and be still.

What's the point?  Why did you get up today? this week? this month? this year?  "Uh, I dunno." is not an answer that is going to get you out of bed.  Set some goals.  Ask yourself where you want to be in a year.  What skills do you want to acquire?  What grades do you want to earn? Promotion do you want to secure?  Growth in virtue do you desire?  WRITE DOWN YOUR GOALS.  Make them specific.  My goal is to score at least 90% on every test this semester.  I plan to lose 5 pounds or gain an inch around my biceps.  I will count to three when I am upset and must respond, and I will be calm when I respond to X person,who tends to aggravate me, demand a lot, etc.  Make the goal measurable - set it so you can clearly determine whether you have accomplished it or not.  Make the goal realistic, something you can actually put into practice, "Actionable" in modern parlance.  In three months, I will be fluent in a language I know nothing of is, for the vast majority of us, an unrealistic goal.  Make sure your goal is realistic - I will keep my room 100% tidy at all times is a great goal.  However, accomplishing it when you have three roommates is not realistic; you can only determine your own actions.  Lastly, give your goal a deadline.  I will lose 15 pounds is a great goal - but it's not so possible when I have no deadline - I can always have that treat and put off my goal until some undefined future date.

Regulate Your Intake.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Junk food is called junk for a reason.  What's your favorite drug?  Winston? Marlboro? Pot? Sugar? Caffeine?  Nearly everyone in the US is a drug user.  We eat FAR more sugar than ever before and it makes our brains feel blah, feeds cancer and cavity causing bacteria, stresses out our livers, and can make us become diabetics.  Oh yeah, it also makes us fat and messes with our moods.  When we don't sleep right, we turn to caffeine.  Caffeine is very slow to leave our bodies.  A cup of coffee at 8am leaves enough caffeine in your body to disrupt your sleep schedule.  Let's not even consider having pop with lunch or dinner!

Am I Connected?  Spending time with friends is important.  We feel connected by our shared interests and activities.  We relax and have fun and enjoy the pleasures of life.  Movies are better with a friend (or a whole gaggle of them!)  Go to a game or a play or a concert.  Toss a frisbee around.  Take time at the lake or on the slopes or for a walk in the woods, good alone time, great with friends, too.  Dance, sing, play games, decorate your room, etc.  Have some fun!  We are social creatures.  Even when your workload is heavy, take a little time to connect with others (and don't spend all that time complaining about your workload!).  Do something fun for a bit... and you'll feel refreshed when you turn back to your work.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ZeeMee – a Visual Way to Present Yourself to Admissions

ZeeMee is a new way for students to showcase themselves for admissions.  A growing number of colleges are including the option of connecting a profile to your application.  Students include information about themselves (their “elevator pitch” or 60 second highlight summary, 3-5 of their activities with pictures, videos, or documents, a professional photo, and their story.  They can also create a 30-90 second “Meet Me” video.

Last year was the first year that some admissions departments included ZeeMee as an option.  The feedback they gave is that they appreciated the opportunity to get to know the personality of the applicants better.  This year, over 200 colleges will be including this option.  While admissions teams are sorting out how to best include reviewing ZeeMee in their application review process, the initial expectation is that they will take between one and three minutes to view a profile.

Some tips for students.  Keep your profile positive and professional.  Be yourself, especially in your video.  Admissions are adept at noticing when a student is not being him or herself so don’t try to be someone you are not.  Minor mistakes in your video are OK.  A perfect video would be suspect, unless your resume includes lots of experience and expertise in video creation.  Including a quick testimonial in your video is ok.  There are sample videos on ZeeMee; these will give you an idea.

You can start creating your profile any time after you turn 13.  Then use it as a place to document and memorialize your accomplishments throughout high school, including accomplishments at school, work, athletics, competitions, and your life in general.  As always, be careful to not use buzzwords or abbreviations.  You may know what the KofC picnic is, but admissions won’t.

I have mixed feelings about this.  For those capable of pulling together a decent video, I think it’s a great option.  For those who are not, I think it would be best to skip this.  However, it IS an opportunity for a student with a special ability which is not directly related to their major area of interest, to showcase that.  For example, a student who hopes to play for the marching band but not major in music.  Or for an athlete who loves their sport but isn’t looking to be recruited.  Or for students who do atypical things – give talks, do serious research, create amazing art (but who aren’t submitting a portfolio or audition) – be it visual or performing…

ZeeMee allows students to keep their profiles private or public.  When it is private, it is not able to be found via internet search.  When a profile is flagged as public, it is searchable and may be viewed by anyone.  There is a way to share the link to your profile directly thus making it selectively available.  For a tutorial on ZeeMee, please go to

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

College Consultants & HS Counselors - Competitors or Collaborators?

Create a College Prep Power Team:
Use the services of both a College Consultant AND your HS counselor

How the work of a college consultant complements that of the high school counselor

Freshman Year

Some school counselors give a HS success 101 presentation to teach freshman  the basics about time management, good study skills, social interactions, and teacher expectations.  It’s given as a presentation to a group of students.  I provide the same information to each of my clients, then walk them step by step through implementation of the various strategies, helping each of them develop his or her skills, providing one on one coaching and personal encouragement along the way.

Most of the time, high school counselors explain how to create a 4-year high school course plan during their presentation to the freshman class.  The focus is on ensuring that the students are on track to complete all the high school's graduation requirements in four years. I create a course plan with each individual student. We review and adjust it regularly as the student progresses through HS to incorporate the requirements for the level (top tier, state school, etc.) and type of college (liberal arts, engineering, art, etc.) the student is likely to attend..

Sadly, it is not uncommon for HS counselors to have out of date and/or incomplete information.  They simply have too much to keep up with.  I have seen counseling department brochures from expensive private high schools stating that they administer the ACT’s PLAN & EXPLORE tests despite the fact that those tests were discontinued four years ago and have been replaced by the Pre-ACT[1][2][3]. I wonder, if the school counselors haven’t had time to update their brochure, what else are they not up to date on or able to keep up with?  I have also found high school counselors completely unfamiliar with the admissions requirements for schools many of their students apply to year after year.

While it is extremely helpful to students to start exploring their interests and correlate them to potential careers, high school counselors don't provide support for this process.  For my part, to help students explore possible careers that correlate to their interests and personalities , I use a prestigious online tool, which gives specific career options and provides links to majors that prepare students for those careers, and colleges that offer those majors.  Using the tool’s results and resources, I begin a series of conversations to facilitate the students' deeper exploration of potential career fields.  I guide each student, showing each one how to explore careers and, ultimately, job shadow and/or intern with professionals in the field(s) the student is seriously considering. We explore as many fields as the student would like.  We do this during freshman, sophomore, and, if needed, junior years.  As we progress, we use this information to determine and refine the student's college goals.

Depending on the student’s expressed interests, I guide my clients to prepare for and start to take AP and/or SAT subject tests as early as freshman year, if they are considering applying to selective colleges.  My clients are often accumulating robust credentials and building impressive resumes from the beginning of high school.  This, of course, depends on the skills, interests, and goals of each student.

I guide my clients as they select extracurricular activities from sports, to clubs, and from mere membership to leadership, from casually exploring their interests beyond the confines of the classroom to engaging in significant research, internships, and other possibilities.  These extra curricular activities form an important component of student development and the development of their academic and career interests.

Sophomore Year

At some point, many school counselors offer much needed depression and suicide prevention information in addition to assistance with staying on track to graduate.

High school counselors do not mentor students to become leaders, improve their social skills (like conflict resolution, agenda preparation, project planning, etc.)  I do those things, along with continuing the career exploration and college search.  My students will have a preliminary list of schools by the end of sophomore year.  Again, I guide students to appropriate testing and other activities that will both develop them and provide a robust list of achievements which will be appreciated by admissions at their target schools.  My primary focus is on the development of each student however, I keep the admissions requirements of the student’s target schools in mind.  The vast majority of high school counselors haven't brought up the subject of college preparations yet - and won't until the middle of the junior year.

Junior Year

A few schools offer a practice ACT  or SAT on campus, which is a boon to their students. Additionally, some of them will give classroom talks to introduce the college search and application process.  By this time, however, my clients have already created an initial college list of about 25 schools.  My students have been visiting campuses for a couple of years. By having the rough school list, we have already identified which tests and high school classes should be taken at what times.  Testing for college can begin as early as freshman year.  By junior year, my clients have a pretty solid idea of what they are looking for in a college and what it will take for them to get accepted into schools that provide the opportunities they are looking for.

Some schools or school districts host a career fair but typically only recommend that upperclassmen attend.  In fact, it would be better to attend during freshman and sophomore years. For my clients, attending this during the junior year will be an opportunity to secure internships, not to start exploring careers. 

Some counselors and schools (or school districts) also host a college fair.  For students not working with me or one of my colleagues, this will be the first exposure for their students to the various college options which exist.  My clients, on the other hand, are already focused on schools that meet their requirements.  They will be asking refined questions if they even take the time to attend it.  College fairs are not opportunities to meet with professors and students, but opportunities to gather marketing materials and speak to the various schools’ alumni representatives or admissions reps(salesmen), which is valuable at the outset of the college search, but not adequate later on.

By the end of the junior year, my clients will have their school list finalized and will be pre-writing their application essays.  Over the summer, the bulk of the application preparation tasks will be completed.

Senior Year

Most schools hold a college planning night and encourage their seniors to attend.  Occasionally, they will offer these in the Spring and invite the juniors to attend.  Nonetheless, late junior year or the fall of senior year is quite late in the process; applications open July 1 and August 1 and financial aid applications open October 1.  Again, it is not at all uncommon for the presentations to include outdated or inaccurate information.  School counselors mention almost about financial aid or college funding and, if they do, it will be very basic information.  It will include no strategies, even general ones, beyond the counsel to be sure to file the forms.  As a college consultant, I integrate each client’s financial considerations and funding strategies into my work from freshman year on, and complete and file the financial aid application forms on behalf of my client families during the senior year.

Some high school counselors have 1:1 meetings with each senior to explore and explain the application process.  For many, this will be the first one on one meeting with their counselor that is not about class selection and graduation requirements.  Having this meeting is good, but again comes too late in the process.  Early application deadlines are October 15 or November 1 for most schools and December 1 for a few.  Therefore, having an introduction to the application meeting in September is really late in the cycle.  Early in the summer, I sit with each client and prepare and application strategy and determine which application(s) to use in order to best showcase their accomplishments.  My clients have their essays and resumes finished in the summer and start the application completion process as soon as the applications open.  They will have already taken care of getting teacher counselor recommendations and transcripts.  I give them guidelines to share with their teachers so excellent recommendations are written, particularly for students targeting highly selective colleges.

High School counselors don’t guide students step by step through the application process, determining which applications to use when there are options, staying on top of the various deadlines, which application strategy to use at each school, and they don’t work with each student over several months to craft application essays.  In contrast, I do these things one on one with each of my clients.

Another way which I supplement the work of the high school counselor is my perspective.  Every high school offers some sort of advanced courses.  For many, that includes Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Depending on what is available, students targeting more selective schools may need to augment those offerings.  High school counselors usually think only in terms of what their high school offers.  A few will incorporate commonly used supplemental course offering.  In comparison,  I have at least three approaches to this situation for an academically gifted student.

I always try to work collaboratively with each student’s high school counselor(s).  I urge my clients to meet with their school counselors often throughout their high school years.  This enables their high school counselors will be able to write meaningful recommendations for them.

When should we start with a college consultant?

Most people wait until junior year to start.  As you can see from the description above, students will benefit in proportion to the length of time we work together.  Waiting until junior year to start significantly limits what I or any college consultant can do because the student’s courses have been selected, there are limited opportunities for testing left, the time for the college evaluation process is very truncated, and the college list determines the testing, courses, and extracurricular achievements required to be a successful applicant.  The student’s results are negatively impacted. Additionally the personal encouragement and mentoring given as the student develops is also limited.

The difference in the process can be succinctly stated: the later you start, the fewer options you have and the poorer your results will be.  Students who are even considering applying to highly selective or selective schools need the time and guidance to develop themselves and accumulate the accomplishments, etc. needed to have a reasonable chance of acceptance.  If there are financial considerations, starting early will also afford the opportunity to address them as well, utilizing several strategies that can significantly lower the net cost of college.

Students who need more time to ponder their options will also need more time working one on one will a college consultant.

I meet with parents separately to evaluate the financial side of things.  I provide guidance on both the need based and merit based aid sides, as well as private scholarships, if desired.

I provide my clients with a number of proprietary materials including an achievements resume guide, a campus visit guide, a financial aid primer, sample admissions interview questions, and other resources.  I make them available to students as they are needed.  I also have resources such as the 100 Most Generous American Colleges & Universities, which I utilize and provide to clients.

A Word about High School Counselors

Most high schools in the US, whether public or private, have 1 counselor for every 400-900 students. These hard working school counselors handle class schedules, behavioral issues, transfers, testing (AP, PSAT, etc.), emotional issues, administrative issues, college visits, parent questions, IEPs, 504s, etc. While the American School Counselor Association recommends 250 students per counselor, their online records from 2013/2014 reveal that only three states have a student/counselor ratio less than that; the other 47 all have significantly higher ratios.  Nine states have average ratios of over 600 students/counselor!  Even at the ideal 250 students/counselor, if the counselor has students from all four grades, s/he will have 63 seniors, which is still FAR too many to thoroughly prepare for college and other post high school situations, even if that was the only task those counselors had to accomplish.

High school counselors usually also offer college prep resources to their students but have only a very limited amount of time to give individual guidance. While it is wonderful that they do provide some tools and resources to the students, we all know that tools in the hands of the ignorant are rarely used very effectively.  Tools in the hands of seasoned experts, however, typically yield significantly better results. I am a trained expert and I have been guiding students through the entire college preparation, selection, and application processes since 2004.  

HS counselors provide most of their college prep guidance via small group counseling and classroom guidance lessons.  Individual counseling is available as needed, of course, for the distressed, those needing to change their schedules, etc.  Periodic check ins vary from school to school but tend to be short meetings that happen very infrequently and are primarily focused on ensuring that the student will meet all of the graduation requirements or on gathering information about where students will be going to college so the high school can keep records.  Sadly, it often not until senior year that counselors meet with students one on one to discuss their post high school plans.  This limits the scope of these meetings; it is simply too late for a number of options - if the student hasn't already begun on his or her own, it's too late to start and be successful.

For more information:

Katherine O'Brien is the Founder of Celtic College Consultants.  Information regarding their college consulting services, as well as an option to request a meeting to discuss your family's situation, are on her website:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The average length of time to earn a bachelors degree is SIX years!!

Working during HS to set a goal is KEY to graduating in FOUR years

I was recently asked by a very experienced, elite tutor if making a goal really makes a difference. Here's what I told him - and his colleagues...
Over the years, I have found it essential for students to have a goal, even if it’s a bit “fuzzy.” Having a goal in mind motivates students to improve their scores, more deeply explore a field (which also demonstrates that they are working beyond their regular schoolwork. Also, they look at colleges differently when they visit because they are much more engaged in the process and are better able to differentiate the type of learning environment they prefer.
The student's desire to go to x,y, z schools because they have great programs in his or her field(s) of interest is a concrete motivator to keep grades up, take demanding classes, and to be well prepared for the various tests. If they have any tier one colleges/universities on their list, students will have a focus and a drive to go above and beyond the offerings of their high school, which is something the top schools expect. Sometimes the students learn that they don’t like whatever the field was as much as they thought they did. Sometimes they shift to an adjacent field, while other times they make a significant change. It costs you nothing to change your major while you are in high schools whereas it can significantly increase your costs to do so while you are in college (about $50,000 for one additional year of college and $100,000 for two).
In all cases, students come to better know, and be more comfortable with, themselves. Their confidence is boosted. Even learning what you don’t like and where you don’t thrive is beneficial self knowledge. I turn the college selection bit on its head, to some extent. Rather than thinking that the name brand schools (top tier or most highly ranked, or best reputation in their geographic area…) are the ONLY options, they more critically evaluate possible schools and the departments within them and only allow the schools best suited to their needs to be included on their list.
With a goal, the student's confidence increases, their self-knowledge grows, their voice becomes more articulate, and all of these contribute to better applications and essays, as well as a better college experience since they are eager to utilize the various opportunities offered on campus, rather than miss them because they are still sorting themselves out. This work during the high school years also helps students not transfer during college, which can easily require extra time to finish their degree, which increases their cost plus deprives them of income.
The high degree of focus has helped many of my clients get accepted at honors colleges, tier one, and other excellent, but not top tier schools. Given how competitive admissions is at the tier one schools, having high quality schools on their list that aren’t such an unpredictable (almost random chance for the academically qualified) shot of acceptance is imperative. The competitiveness at the top tier has been steadily increasing. Some of my colleagues have recently shared that they have "superstar" clients who were not accepted anywhere but their safety schools this year. 
 Schedule your consultation TODAY to get expert feedback on your college preparations so far.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Catholic Colleges & Universities

Catholicism itself aims for a deep understanding of all creation in order to bring people closer to Jesus Christ.  Hence, intellectual pursuit has been a hallmark of the Church’s existence over the past two millennia.  Consequently, many scholars, Catholic as well as non-Catholic, attend Catholic educational institutions at every level from kindergarten to post-doctoral studies.

The Catholic Intellectual Tradition began in the first centuries after Christ’s death. It is identified by two characteristics: the classic texts, art, architecture, music, science, and technology to be cherished, studied, and handed on as well as the holistic way of considering those things that is the fruit of centuries of experience, prayer, action, and critical reflection.

The 264 American Catholic colleges & universities have a wide variety of strengths and specialties.   For some, adherence to the teachings of the Catholic Church is a very high priority.  These schools encourage living in a Catholic manner with their dorm and campus policies. Like all Catholic schools, these institutions are open to students of all, or no, faiths.  These schools include:

Ave Maria University
Benedictine College
Catholic University of America
Franciscan University
University of Dallas
Wyoming Catholic College

Some Catholic colleges and universities are highly selective and offer some of the most academically rigorous programs in the country.  These schools accept students with very high test scores, GPAs, and significant extracurricular accomplishments.  Among these are:

College of the Holy Cross
Fordham University
Georgetown University
Marist College
Santa Clara University
University of Notre Dame
Villanova University

Additionally, a number of highly selective non-Catholic colleges have strong Catholic communities on campus, including:

Barnard College
Columbia University
Cornell University
Duke University
Harvard College
Lehigh University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Stanford University
University of Pennsylvania
University of Southern California
University of Virginia
Vanderbilt University

Numerous Catholic colleges are generous with need based financial aid. Most or all of this aid consists of scholarships, grants, and work study, none of which needs to be repaid.  These are a few very generous Catholic institutions:

Boston College
College of the Holy Cross
Georgetown University
Thomas Aquinas College
University of Notre Dame
Loyola U. of Maryland
College of St. Benedict
St. John’s University (MN)

Lastly, a number of Catholic colleges have highly rated online degree programs.  These include:

1 Villanova University
2 Georgetown University
3 College of St. Scholastica
4 Duquesne University
5 Creighton University
6 Gonzaga University
7 St. Mary of the Woods
8 St. Joseph’s College (NY)
9 Wheeling Jesuit University
10 Misericordia University

In conclusion, Catholic colleges & universities offer excellent opportunities for students to explore and expand upon the current body knowledge in every field of study from a thoroughly holistic (interdisciplinary) perspective.  Additionally, Catholic schools welcome students of all ethnic and national backgrounds and faith traditions and are as generous as possible with financial aid of all sorts.

Contact Katherine for all your college prep needs -
America's College Prep Specialist, Providing Expert Knowledge for the Journey to College Since 2004 - from a Catholic perspective

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

New Financial Aid Rules & SAT date Add STRESS to the Application Season

New Financial Aid Rules & SAT date are Adding Stress to the already Stressful Application Season

The Class of 2017 was the first to experience the new FAFSA schedule, with the federal financial aid application being available for the first time on October 1st rather than on January 1st. This change was touted to be beneficial to both families and the financial aid offices.  Another change was the use of the prior-prior-year’s (PPY) income information.  This alleviated the difficulties which arose when the IRS couldn’t process returns fast enough to get the information to the FAFSA processor and, in turn, to the financial aid offices, to ensure that financial aid awards would not need to be adjusted once the information was available.  By using 2015 tax return information in October, 2016, the IRS had sufficient time to process those returns.

Because of those changes, financial aid awards were expected to be sent out to applicants much earlier, allowing families more time to determine how to take care of their portion of the bill.  Financial aid officers had hoped to have more time to counsel parents and students, helping them find a satisfactory solution.  However, as of mid-February, students are not reporting receiving their awards yet.  Most are still awaiting the news.  Hopefully this is due to the adjustments needed in the financial aid offices and earlier awards will be forthcoming in subsequent years.  After all, many colleges and universities have long set their next school year’s tuition rates in January.  That process will need to shift to September or earlier in order to enable the financial aid office to create award letters as early as November.  Down the hall, admissions offices are already preparing longer marketing campaigns to entice admitted students to commit to their schools.  Families are often surprised to see the admissions letter contain information regarding submitting a deposit to commit to the school since the financial aid award hasn’t yet been received.  But this is standard practice.  Remember, colleges are businesses trying to attract customers/students. 

Now that the FAFSA can be filed any time after October 1, this year’s seniors found themselves extra busy during the early months of the application season.  Since many schools with early action and/or early decision admissions programs required the FAFSA to be filed by November 1, the very same date the admissions applications were due, students found themselves spinning like whirling dervishes trying to get everything submitted on time.  Finishing early applications due October 15th or November 1st along with getting the FAFSA filed and, in some cases, the PROFILE, was very difficult for many students and their families.  Parents were oftentimes caught off guard by the early financial aid application deadlines. 

Since the financial aid applications are not available until October 1, future student applicants will need to focus on completing their applications for admissions earlier… and on getting all the details taken care of.  Many applicants consider writing the application essays to be the most difficult part of the application process.  However, ensuring that transcripts and test scores are sent out, not to mention the recommendation letters, can make students lose their cool.  There are many, many details to keep track of.  Add in the schools which follow up the financial aid forms with additional requirements like sending in tax forms or other documentation and it’s no wonder families are stressed out. 

To top it off, the SAT has added an August sitting.  This has been long requested and is good news.  The Class of 2018 will be able to take the SAT August 26th and/or the ACT on September 9th, both in time for even the earliest of the application deadlines.  But that only packs their schedule even more tightly in the Fall.  Students will need to start the application process even sooner and be very well organized in order to fulfill all the requirements by their various deadlines.  Given how very few have developed those skills at age 17, the need for hiring a college consultant is becoming increasingly apparent.

To discuss your situation and how she can help you, schedule an initial consultation with college admissions and financial aid expert, Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS,  here. Her website is

Monday, February 13, 2017

NEW Common App Prompts for 2017/18!

The Common Application just released the main essay prompts for the 2017/2018 applications.  There are now SEVEN of them!  I've done a thorough review of them and feel strongly that applicants should cross off 3 of these prompts right away...

There were no prompts for the last cycle so the changes are catching many by surprise.  The Coalition App and Universal App both had the "create your own prompt" prompt which the Common App hasn't had since 2013. Now they are bringing it back!

The 2017-2018 Common App Essay Prompts Are:
  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. [No change]
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]
I've done a thorough review of these and feel strongly that applicants should eliminate 3 of these right away.  Work with me and I'll explain which ones and why.

Are you a junior and ready to start your essays?  We're ready to help! Click here to set up your initial consultation TODAY.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Outstanding (and Selective) Summer Programs, Non-STEM

Competitive applicants for top colleges, universities, and conservatories have taken their summers to develop their skills and talents.  There are many, many summer camps for high school students across the country.  Many universities host them.  For many colleges, they are a great way to earn money for the institution.  They also increase the likelihood of participants applying and attending their college.  But, most of these, despite their hefty price tag, do very little to nothing to build the students' profile.  That is certainly true at the most selective colleges and universities.

In order to help families find the selective summer camps, I have put together a couple of lists.  This post, as well as the adjacent one on STEM focused programs, lists a number of selective summer camps generally highly respected by selective colleges and universities.  Some are expensive.  Others cost nothing but transportation.  They all require applications, essays/auditions, and recommendations.

Since they are quite selective, it is wise to apply to additional programs as well.  At Celtic College Consultants, we have helped students find their passions, create a powerful college prep plan, and be accepted into top universities across the country.

Performing Arts

Tanglewood Institute at Boston University

Annual two to eight week institutes for age 14-20 (incoming 9th-12th and first and second year collegians.) Costs range from $3,000 - $8,500.  Financial assistance is available.

Applications are due January 29th and include an audition.

Indiana University music academies
varying dates

Annual two week programs for ballet dancers, pianists, saxophonists, string instrument players, percussionists from grades 7-12.  The programs are residential and include staying in a dorm and meals on campus.  Financial aid is available for the string and piano academies. 

Applications are due at various times.

Interlochen Arts Academy

Each summer, Interlochen offers one, three, and six week long residential programs for people from third grade through twelfth grade in performing arts ranging from theatre to strings to harp to ballet to modern dance to organ to piano to singing to percussion to winds to motion picture arts to creative writing.  Six week programs cost just over $9,000.  Three week programs cost about $5,500. Financial aid is available.

The priority application deadline for programs which involve an audition is February 1.

Business for Women

Young Women's Institute (at Indiana U)

Four one week programs for women with 3.5 or higher GPAs.  The only cost is your transportation to and from Bloomington, Indiana.  Participants attend workshops with the business school faculty and prepare real world business case projects.  They will build leadership and communication skills.

Applications are due by March 26th.


July 22 - 27, 2017

JCamp is a six-day multi-cultural intensive journalism training for high school students. Students learn from professional journalists and get hands-on training in writing, photography, television broadcasting, online media, and reporting. Sessions and workshops are led by experienced journalists from top media companies.The program is open to freshman, sophomores, and juniors.  All costs are covered, including airfare.  In 2017, JCamp will be at Temple University.

Applications are due by March 12th.

Princeton U Summer Journalism Program for low income students

August 4 to August 14, 2017

Annually 35-40 high school students from low-income backgrounds every summer to Princeton's campus for an intensive, 10-day seminar on journalism. The program is for juniors with at least a 3.5. All expenses, including students' travel costs to and from Princeton, are paid for by the program. Students who attend the program come from across the country. The combined income of your custodial parent(s)/guardian(s) plus child support payments, if any, must not exceed $45,000. Only 11% of applicants are accepted.

Applications are due February 24th.

Cronkite Institute for High School Journalism Summer Journalism Institute
June 4-16, 2017

This selective program brings top-performing high school students to Arizona State U. for two weeks of intensive, hands-on experiences in broadcast and digital journalism.  Students report and produce original stories and create an SJI website or news broadcast. Students are expected to cover their transportation to and from Phoenix as well as their incidental expenses.

Applications are due March 17th.


U Pennsylvania - Leadership in the Business World

The Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania have six summer programs.  These range from a program for international (non-American) students to programs open to 9th - 12th grade students to a program for rising seniors.

U Notre Dame - Leadership Seminars
July 15-26, 2017

Notre Dame Leadership Seminars explore topics affecting the global community. The courses are centered around vibrant discussion and a robust exchange of ideas. This creates a context in which students are encouraged to examine their own conclusions and hone their own leadership capacities by improving their communications and analytical skills.

Expenses for students accepted to Leadership Seminars—including transportation to and from Notre Dame—will be paid for by the University except the $150 enrollment fee. Approximately 100 students are admitted to Leadership Seminars each year, and students are eligible to receive one college credit upon completion of the program.  The program is for juniors with at least a 1360 on the new SAT, or 31 and above on the ACT.

Applications are due January 30th.


Economics for Leaders
various dates and sites

Economics for Leaders (EFL) is a selective one week long annual summer program that teaches leaders how to integrate economics into the process of decision-making in a hands-on, experiential environment. The goal of EFL is to give promising students the skills to be more effective leaders and to teach them how to employ economic analysis when considering difficult public policy choices. The program is competitive with approximately two applicants applying for each available space.

Through a partnership with the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, two semester hours of undergraduate credit are available to students attending EFL. There is an additional fee of $244 for the credits and students who opt to receive credit must complete additional assignments.  Financial aid is available for the program.

Current sophomores and juniors are welcome to apply.
Early Application Deadline – Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Standard Application Deadline – Wednesday, March 15, 2017


Yale Young Global Scholars

Yale offers a number of summer programs including sustainable development and social entrepreneurship, math and science, applied science and engineering, international affairs and security, biology and biomedical science, and politics, law, and economics.

Admission is selective.  The median SAT is 2200 (of 2400) and the median ACT is 33. 30% of recent applicants were accepted. Applications are welcome from international students as well as Americans. Tuition is $5,800, which does not include transportation to and from New Haven, CT.  Partial and Full need based scholarships are available.

Applications are due January 31st.


Texas Tech - Clark Scholars
June 19-August 2, 2017

The Clark Scholar Program is an intensive seven week summer research program for highly qualified high school juniors and seniors. Scholars to have a hands-on practical research experience with outstanding and experienced faculty. The Scholars will receive a $750 tax-free stipend and room and board. This program provides opportunities for research in all academic areas in the university.

Research can be done in these areas: Accounting, Advertising, Agriculture Sciences, Animal & Food Sciences, Anthropology, Architecture, Art, Autism, Bilingual Education, Biological Sciences, Business, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Classical and Modern Languages, Communication Studies, Computer Science, Dance, Design, Economics, Education, Electronic Media, Energy, Engineering, Finance, Journalism, Nutritional Sciences, Geosciences, Health/Exercise/Sport Sciences, History, Horticulture, Human Development & Family Studies, Law, Management, Marketing, Mathematics and Statistics, Medicine, Music, Natural Resources Management, Philosophy, Physics and Biophysics, Plant & Soil Sciences, Political Science, Psychology, Public Relations, Social Sciences, Sociology, Theatre Arts.

Applications are due February 8th.  International Students are eligible/welcome to apply. Applicants must be 17 by the time the program starts.  Recent participants' SAT score was greater than 2276 (out of 2400) and PSAT was greater than 223.

Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)

TASP is a free six week long program.  Students attend TASPs because they want a personal and intellectual challenge. Telluride Association seeks students from all kinds of educational backgrounds who demonstrate intellectual curiosity and motivation, rather than prior knowledge of the seminar’s subject matter. TASPers participate solely for the pleasure and rewards of learning with other intelligent, highly motivated students of diverse backgrounds. The TASP offers no grades or college credit.

Each morning students attend seminars for lectures and involved discussions on various subjects.  In the afternoon, participate in a public speaking program.  One of the program’s remarkable features is that the students are responsible for organizing most of their out-of-classroom time through weekly group meetings and on smaller committees. This element of self-government is an essential part of the TASP experience. Students plan all kinds of activities, including group-wide discussions, field games, community service projects, music and theater events, reading groups, and excursions to state parks and art museums. Participants also share responsibility for keeping their environment clean and safe.